By Jason Puskar
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Additional resources for Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance
In a great deal of nineteenth-century fiction, chance functions as the invisible hand of the deity. Even though Charles Dickens’s outrageous social coincidences may reflect the unpredictability of modern The Insurance of the Real social systems, they also have centripetal and integrative tendencies that suggest higher levels of design. When, in Oliver Twist (1861), the orphan’s benefactor turns out to be closely connected to his lost relatives, the reunion of families and friends acts as a thematic counterpart to the formal integration of multiple plots, which the novel’s conclusion braids together.
45 James Kloppenberg has characterized a wide range of turn-of-thecentury progressive reforms as a synthesis of pragmatism’s relativistic and experiential theory of knowledge with the social democratic politics behind late nineteenth-century European welfare policies. ”46 Social commitment met the social constitution of truth halfway, and the resulting reform efforts proved a successful means of limiting, without eliminating, some of the most egregious suffering of turn-of-the-century life. My point here is simply that chance functions as one pivotal term connecting pragmatism and social democracy.
By piling up accidents just as the novel searches for closure, Howells in fact undermines his own realist pretense to observe chance and makes it all the more clear that he is producing chance instead. After all, these accidents are not really preventing the novel from closing; they are in fact facilitating its closure. The accident, final and conclusive, might even be the event that has to happen before the novel can allow itself to terminate, like a marriage at the end of a comedy or a death at the end of a tragedy.